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Law School Case Brief

Flast v. Cohen - 392 U.S. 83, 88 S. Ct. 1942 (1968)


The jurisdiction of federal courts is defined and limited by U.S. Const. art. III. The judicial power of federal courts is constitutionally restricted to "cases" and "controversies." Embodied in the words "cases" and "controversies" are two complementary but somewhat different limitations. In part, those words limit the business of federal courts to questions presented in an adversary context and in a form historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process. And in part, those words define the role assigned to the judiciary in a tripartite allocation of power to assure that the federal courts will not intrude into areas committed to the other branches of government. Justiciability is the term of art employed to give expression to this dual limitation placed upon federal courts by the case-and-controversy doctrine. 


Federal income tax payers brought suit in the District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging, among other things, that the establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment was being violated by the expenditure of federal funds, appropriated by Congress under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, to finance instruction in religious schools and to purchase textbooks and other instructional materials for use in such schools. Declaratory and injunctive relief were requested, and a three-judge District Court was convened. The District Court ordered the complaint dismissed, holding that the plaintiffs' status as federal taxpayers did not give them standing to sue. The taxpayers appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States on direct appeal.


Did federal income tax payers have standing under U.S. Const. Art. III to bring suit alleging an unconstitutional federal taxing and spending program?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment that dismissed the taxpayers' action. The Court held that the taxpayers' complaint contained sufficient allegations to give them standing to invoke a federal court's jurisdiction. The Court held that a taxpayer would have standing consistent with U.S. Const. Art. III to invoke federal judicial power when he alleged that congressional action under the Taxing and Spending Clause was in derogation of those constitutional provisions that operated to restrict the exercise of the taxing and spending power. Under the test, the taxpayers satisfied both nexuses of the test. The constitutional challenge was made to an exercise by Congress of its power under U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, and the challenged program involved a substantial expenditure of federal tax funds. Furthermore, the taxpayers alleged that the challenged expenditures violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses

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